Although much of the media’s election coverage focuses on this year’s presidential race, the results of the Senate and House elections will also have a great impact on how the country is run for at least the next two years until the 2014 midterm elections.
This does not mean, however, voters — including college students and other young voters — are paying attention.
After a summer that saw the lowest average voter turnout in statewide primaries since 1972, Democrats are working to keep control of the Senate while the Republicans have a steady grasp on the House of Representatives.
Democrats control the Senate 53-47, but are defending 23 of the 33 seats up for re-election. The party will lose the Senate if it loses more than 3 seats, and there are at least six tossup races, USA TODAY reported.
File photo of the U.S. Capitol building Nov. 19, 2011.
Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to hold onto the House, with Democrats there facing an uphill battle of a net gain of 25 seats to shift control, according to the Huffington Post. (Democrats are expected to gain fewer than 10 representatives.)
Since it is likely that each of the two houses of Congress will be controlled by a different party, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will have trouble pushing through legislation they promote once the 113th Congress convenes.
The approval rating for Congress has dropped to 10% according to an August 2012 Gallup poll, tying a record low. Despite this trend, the CSAE says it is likely that between 95 and 100 million eligible American citizens will abstain from voting this November, including in statewide races for the Senate and House.
Mark Rossbach, 21, is among these Americans.
“I do not vote, nor did I even bother becoming registered to vote,” Rossbach said. “I guess you could say I don’t feel my vote makes much of a difference.”
Nearly a century ago, the ratification of the 17th Amendment established the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote. However, in the 2010 midterms elections, during which every seat in the House and approximately a third of the Senate were voted on, only about 20.9% of eligible American citizens ages 18-29 voted (including those who are allowed to register but choose not to, like Rossbach), according to the The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Though she did not vote in 2010, Jill Pellegrini, 21, said she believes midterm elections and statewide federal elections are of great importance.
“I consider myself a fairly politically informed person and I think it’s really important to get involved as soon as possible to create a habit,” Pellegrini, a registered voter, said. “I think most of our problems in Washington stem from the fact that so many people don’t exercise their right to vote.”
Although Pellegrini admits she feels her vote for president does not matter because she is a registered voter in the heavily Democrat state of Massachusetts, this does not dissuade her from voting in statewide races.
One of the tightest races for Senate is between Scott Brown (R-MA) and challenger Elizabeth Warren. Brown was sent to the Senate after a special election in 2009 following the death of longtime Democratic senator Ted Kennedy.
“I think many young people don’t realize how important these elections for senators and [representatives] are and how they can affect us down the road. I really think this is the place where we can change the government in the biggest way,” Pellegrini said. “No matter what either side says, Congress is as big if not bigger of a problem than whoever is in the Oval Office.”
Curtis Gans, the director of the CSAE, agrees.
“I would even go so far as to say that the control of the Senate and the need to reduce the impact of the Tea Party in the House are of equal importance the presidential race,” Gans said via email. “The problem is that those races don’t get much air [coverage] in a presidential election year, which is wrong.”
“I do not watch much TV anymore but from what I have seen in passing through any media, almost all of it seems presidential,” Rossbach said, who is eligible to vote in the swing state of Florida. “I may have seen one or two mudslinging ads about local politics, but that is it. I’m not really even sure who’s running for anything locally.”
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